JAMA Pediatrics 172 (11):1101-1102 (2018)

Michael J. Deem
University of Pittsburgh
Mark Christopher Navin
Oakland University
Marshall and O’Leary’s thoughtful response to our article suggests that dismissal policies are ethically justifiable because they might induce parents to immunize their children. This outcome is conceivable, but we have only anecdotes about how often it occurs. Such evidence became the thin reed on which the American Academy of Pediatrics rested its new policy of tolerating the practice of dismissing vaccine-hesitant parents. It seems likely that relatively few parents would agree to vaccinate because they were threatened with dismissal. Other heavy-handed interventions have failed to move most such parents. When Washington state made nonmedical exemptions more difficult to obtain, nearly two-thirds of vaccine refusers were unmoved and their children remained unvaccinated. Even if dismissal threats led some parents to accept vaccines, this alone would not justify a dismissal policy. The benefits would still have to be weighed against the risks of dismissing those families who do not change their minds.
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